Do Republicans Think We Own Iraq?

How you look at things.
Oct. 24 2011 8:06 AM

The Fief of Baghdad

President Bush said we were liberating Iraq. Now Republicans think we own it.

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Michele Bachmann

(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Eight years after President George W. Bush invaded Iraq in the name of democracy, Republicans are trying to subvert it.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

On March 19, 2003, Bush announced the invasion. He declared: “Our purpose is sure: The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder.” He pledged: “We have no ambition in Iraq, except to remove a threat and restore control of that country to its own people.”

Five years later, after Iraq’s liberation and its first free elections in nearly half a century, Bush met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to sign a security agreement. Bush explained:

The agreement provides American troops and Defense Department officials with authorizations and protections to continue supporting Iraq's democracy once the U.N. mandate expires at the end of this year. This agreement respects the sovereignty and the authority of Iraq's democracy. The agreement lays out a framework for the withdrawal of American forces in Iraq—a withdrawal that is possible because of the success of the surge.

Bush noted that U.S. forces were in Iraq “at the request of the Iraqi government. It's an elected government.” The agreement called for U.S. withdrawal by the end of 2011.

On Friday, with that deadline approaching, President Obama announced:

"A few hours ago I spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki. I reaffirmed that the United States keeps its commitments. He spoke of the determination of the Iraqi people to forge their own future. We are in full agreement about how to move forward. So today, I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year."

Actually, as Josh Rogin reports in Foreign Policy, U.S. officials wanted to leave thousands of troops beyond the deadline. But negotiations with Iraq

stalled over the U.S. demand that the remaining troops receive immunity from Iraqi courts. … As recently as August, Maliki's office was discussing allowing 8,000 to 20,000 U.S. troops to remain until next year, Iraqi Ambassador Samir Sumaida'ie said in an interview with The Cable. He told us that there was widespread support in Iraq for such an extension, but the Obama administration was demanding that immunity for U.S. troops be endorsed by the Iraqi Council of Representatives, which was never really possible.

The New York Times says U.S. officials asked Iraqi leaders

to take a stand on the question of immunity for troops … But they misread Iraqi politics and the Iraqi public. Still burdened by the traumas of this and previous wars, and having watched the revolutions sweeping their region, the Iraqis were unwilling to accept anything that infringed on their sovereignty. Acutely aware of that sentiment, the Iraqi leadership quickly said publicly that they would not support legal protections for any American troops.

In short, Iraq’s government, driven by public concern about national sovereignty, refused to let us keep troops there with legislatively guaranteed immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law. You can argue about what led to this refusal or whether it’s negotiable, but the refusal itself clearly irks some Republican presidential candidates. “When they refuse to sign an agreement protecting American forces from Iraqi law … we have lost influence,” Newt Gingrich complained Saturday. The next morning on Face the Nation, Bob Schieffer told Rick Santorum: “The Iraqis seem to be saying, ‘We don't want you there anymore.’ Why would we keep troops there when they say, ‘We don't want you’?” Santorum replied: “That's because we've lost the battle in Iraq with the Iraqi government. We've lost this sphere of influence that we had.”

Protecting American forces from Iraqi law. We’ve lost the battle with the Iraq government. That’s quite a turn from the battle we originally claimed to be waging. But Gingrich’s and Santorum’s gripes are nothing compared to Michele Bachmann’s rage. On Face the Nation, she fumed:

We've put a lot of deposit into this situation with Iraq. And to think that we are so disrespected and they have so little fear of the United States that there would be nothing that we would gain from this … We are there as the nation that liberated these people. And that's the thanks that the United States is getting after 4,400 lives were expended and over $800 billion? And so on the way out, we're being kicked out of the country? I think this is absolutely outrageous.

Deposit. Disrespected. Kicked out. No gain. No fear of the United States. So much for all that talk of sovereignty, democracy, and the rule of law. For Bachmann, our military presence in Iraq isn’t about liberation. It’s about empire. She even demanded that Iraq "reimburse the United States fully for the amount of money that we have spent to liberate these people."

On Fox News Sunday, Bachmann dismissed Iraq’s government as Iran’s puppet. The U.S. troop withdrawal, she argued, was forced by “the insistence of Iraq. They did not want an American presence. And it's clear to all why they don't want an American presence: because Iran doesn't want an American presence.” She also said “it was wrong for the United States to go in[to] Libya” because “there was no clearly identifiable American vital interest” and we “don't know who the next regime will be that will be taking over Libya. We knew who the devil was that was running [Libya]. we don't know the next one.”

Stick with the devil you know. Don’t use force unless it’s in your interest. Demand gains from your investment. Make your hosts fear you. Dismiss their resistance as inauthentic. There’s nothing new in this way of thinking about the world, or in betraying the promises you made during your invasion. It’s the way dictators and emperors have always treated their conquests. What’s laughable is the right’s attempt to pass it off as moral.

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